C.J.: Being conned by a murdering 'Rockefeller' hasn't jaded author

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 7, 2014 - 7:09 PM

George Clooney hitting on Walter Kirn’s girlfriend might have been the most interesting story this Minnesota boy could tell until he became friendly with an impostor who called himself “Clark Rockefeller.”

“I lived in Marine on St. Croix and Shafer, which is right outside of Taylors Falls, where I went to high school,” Kirn, a journalist and successful author, said via e-mail. He’s now a Montana resident, and his latest book, “Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade,” is about his friendship with a murderous grifter it took years for authorities to identify as Christian Gerhartsreiter. A custody battle that prompted Gerhartsreiter to kidnap his daughter led to an arrest that brought his con man’s lifestyle to an end. His identity uncovered, Gerhartsreiter was linked to a California cold case, the 1985 murder of Jonathan Sohus. In 2013 Gerhartsreiter was sentenced to 27 years for Sohus’ murder.

“With its lurid title and bloodstained cover, Walter Kirn’s latest book is bound to be shelved in the crime section,” Nina Burleigh wrote in the New York Times. “But it’s actually about class. A novelist, journalist and memoirist, Kirn is his generation’s aspirational Midwesterner, a boy who goes East [graduates Princeton] and sneaks into the magic circle of the American aristocracy. But no matter how close to the center he gets, he still feels like the little match girl, nose pressed against the window.”

It’s not that journalists aren’t fooled. The problem is that when some of us get duped, we greet the future by assuming most of what we hear is hoax material until proven otherwise. (When I met a Barrymore, I asked to see his driver’s license.)

Kirn suffers no such apparent residual emotions from this colossal con job.

And I have to give Kirn credit for this: I think he figured out charming Clooney. Kirn got to watch the then-confirmed married-once-but-never-again actor while on the set of “Up in the Air,” a movie based on a novel Kirn wrote.

 

Q: Since this is an e-mail Q&A, how should I go about confirming that you are Walter Kirn?

A: You’re just going to have to take my word for it. Society operates on faith, chiefly because it saves time and it’s less work. To verify the identity of everyone we come into contact with in our daily lives would leave us exhausted by lunch time. It wouldn’t be practical. [Since I don’t have such faith, I wanted to hear Kirn’s voice to determine if he sounded like the guy I saw in a TV interview. He did.]

 

Q: Has your BS detector ever failed as monumentally as it did during your time with your friend the con man and killer?

A: Given my experience with “Rockefeller,” I’m not sure I have an operational BS detector. I’ve always been a sucker for a good story, and not all good stories are true. What I hate even more than being deceived is being bored, I’ve learned. But sometimes amusement comes at a high price.

 

Q: Because of this deception, are you a less-trusting person? Is there someone you judged too harshly since getting “punked”?

A: The person I most distrust now is myself. But yes, I’m too suspicious of others at times, particularly of those I meet over the Internet.

 

Q: For some reason, creepy guys are not as obvious to other men as they are to women. Did any of the women in your life who met “Clark Rockefeller” think something was not quite right?

A: My ex-wife, Maggie McGuane, seemed less enchanted by “Clark” than I was. She told me more than once that he was full of it. I, too, thought he was full of it occasionally, but that didn’t make him a total fake, I thought, just an insecure exaggerator. I spend a lot of time with other writers, so that’s a personality profile I’m used to.

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